Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

So I haven't updated in awhile. I'm working on the whole financial independence thing.

I'm also doing a lot of stuff for the foundation -- trying to revamp the cafepress store. And I've realized Blog may not be the best medium for wikisnips, so there's something developing on that front, too.

In the meantime, check out the Think Free campaign:

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In one California case, a pizza delivery was used as a ploy to lure a murder victim out of her house. Tanya Holzmayer was then murdered by a man she had fired recently, scientist Guyang Matthew Huang, who had been lying in wait. Huang then shot himself. Domino's promptly sent another driver to retrieve and deliver the remaining pizzas.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Harriet (c. 1830–June 23, 2006).
Tu'i Malila (c. 1777–May 19, 1965).
Adwaita.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Interesting NYTimes article about the culture of the Chinese-language Wikipedia (though frustratingly little is said about the actual construction of the articles -- did the reporter wade through the history or just skim the top layer of the onion? Underscores the need for a good wikipedia client that makes history-swimming easy.)

Talk: Rock, Paper, Scissors (via reddit)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wikipedia just got its 1,500,000th article, which is about an endangered species of snail. (The 1,000,000th was about a Scottish railway station and the 500,000ths was about Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wikipedia "is producing the world’s least biased accounts of the world’s most polarizing conflict...Two peoples at war can learn to live in peace with the help of what historians have called a “bridging narrative,” a shared understanding of history that takes into account the grievances of both sides. After five regional wars, two intifadas, and endless skirmishes and political confrontations, if any two groups of people on Earth need such a narrative, it’s Israelis and Arabs. By creating an editing environment in which political partisans from the different sides are induced to hash out their disagreements, Wikipedia is showing how a bridging narrative might be created, and what it might look like."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Sadly, many Wikipedia users still have a sense of humour and, what is worse, use it deliberately. This is why I recently set up the Wikipedia Fun Police, to help eliminate this problem once and for all. "

Via via via via

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another wikipedia blog: WikiDumper is "The Official Appreciation Page for the Best of the Wikipedia Rejects". (I like this one.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Interesting blog post with a digg-ready title: Wikipedia and the Death of Archaeology: "Since Wikipedia exists in many non-identical, language-based independent editions, each of which is constantly changing, all of the editions taken together provide a real-time record of not only how our perception of ourselves morphs over time, but how that perception differs culturally around the world as well."

On a non-wikipedia-related note, my old band The Allusions finished recording some songs (my keyboard and synths are in the first three). It's impossible to judge a band you've been in objectively, but I think they sound pretty damn good. Check out their shows if you're in michigan.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Google buys Jotspot. (JotSpot is an enterprise-wiki -slash-web-app platform. It looks kind of cool.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

There's a minor war [signpost overview] raging in the blogosphere after Jason Calcamis, CEO of Weblogs Inc., said it was unconcionable for Wikipedia not to run advertising.

Of course, Wikipedia's adlessness is one of the things that makes it work -- it's community-powered, and rather utopian -- but you already knew that. Wikipedians have been talking about this issue for years, and the idea that there are millions of dollars at stake is not new.

What's telling about this exchange is that almost everyone in the wider blogging world has come to the same conclusion the wikipedians did. (Calacanis has taken a lot of abuse, not all of it deserved.)

Speaking of which. I'm on the fundraising committee, and we should be rolling out some exciting new stuff over the next month -- none of it ad-related. The difference between Wikipedia's model and Weblog Inc.'s typifies the difference between blogging and wikis generally, I think.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

There's a new podcast: Wikipedia Weekly. (They've got a Jimmy Wales interview this week.) Here's the mp3 feed, and here's the iTunes link.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Florence Devouard is the new chair of the Wikimedia board. Jimbo will become Chairman Emeritus.

Monday, October 23, 2006

0.999...

Jimbo's revalation (to wit: an anonymous donor might give a hundred million dollars to free content from copyright) got picked up on slashdot, metafilter, and digg. Summary of the hundreds of suggestions that poured in.

("The idea of forming a nation has been discussed before on this page. Problem would be to found the infstrastructure of that nation. Also defending the country against US's 'liberation' operations would be impossible.")

Thursday, October 19, 2006

List of Six Feet Under deaths. (Because episode guides are for pussies.)

From Jimbo, on the list:

Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you like to see purchased and released under a free license?

Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.

I was recently asked this question by someone who is potentially in a position to make this happen, and he wanted to know what we need, what we dream of, that we can't accomplish on our own, or that we would expect to take a long time to accomplish on our own.


If you've got ideas, add them.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Report from the mailing list: Wikipedia is now only partially blocked in China. (Better that the chinese government censor wikipedia than the foundation. Though I think the spectre of partial blocks will keep editors on pins and needles.)

Mashing up wikipedia is cool, but the API provides unformatted text. Here's how to screen-scrape wikipedia into HTML goodness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Despite urban legend, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet. However, Crapper put in much effort to popularise it and did come up with some related inventions.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Man, I used to love going on Spaceship Earth when I was a kid.

(See also: terrifyingly detailed coverage of Epcot. "EPCOT is also regarded today as the quintessential park of the 1980s. Many feel the park is severely outdated; a common insult is to call the park "the future as seen by Republicans." On the other hand, there are many who enjoy the nostalgia as there has been a growing trend toward interest in 1980s culture. To showcase this growing trend, EPCOT has a performance troupe in the Future World area perform many New Wave hits from the '80s on synthesizer instruments. The troupe dresses in Duran Duran and A Flock Of Seagulls-esque clothing and also peforms many Disney songs.")

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mamihlapinatapai is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word". It describes a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start.

Saudade is a Portuguese word for a feeling of longing for something that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future. It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return. Few other languages in the world have a word with such meaning, making saudade a distinct mark of Portuguese culture.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Professional farter

Hey, another wikipedia client for mac! (Called Pathway. Small but interesting featureset. Still no history-swimming.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Corante has a good discussion about why experts stay at wikipedia, and why they leave.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Erik Möller won the board election. (He's supremely qualified and seems like a good guy.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Lawrence Lessig's wikimania keynote was about making sure free culture wasn't divided into isolated islands. To that end, FlickrLickr grabs free-licenced Flickr photos for use on wikimedia projects.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Tree of Ténéré was a solitary acacia that was once considered the most isolated tree on Earth — the only one within more than 400 km. It was knocked down by an allegedly drunk Libyan truck driver in 1973. On November 8, 1973 the dead tree was relocated to the Niger National Museum in the capital Niamey. It has been replaced by a simple metal sculpture representing a tree.

List of famous trees

Pedia bills itself as a wikipedia client for mac, but it's really just a stripped-down web browser, not even as full-featured as Gollum. (It's free-licenced, so it'll improve. Maybe I'll finish learning Cocoa and do it myself.)

Clay Shirky on why Citizendium won't work. I'm inclined to think these problems might be solvable (not least because Citizendium content can be recycled to wikipedia -- Citizendium just needs to be a tide pool, a set of nooks and crannies where an alternate rulebook elides problems that crop up in some corners of wikipedia), but the snippiness of Sanger's response is a bit concerning.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wikipedia blog endorses Aaron Swartz. Check out his essays, and go vote for him in the Wikimedia board elections (which end in a couple days).

From Code, and Other Laws of Wikipedia:

The page design the site uses encourages specific actions by making some links clear and prominent. Software functions like categories make certain kinds of features possible. The formatting codes used for things like infoboxes and links determine how easy it is for newcomers to edit those pieces of the site.

All of these things are political choices, not technical ones. It's not like there's a right answer that's obvious to any intelligent programmer. And these choices can have huge effects on the community. That's why it's essential the community be involved in making these decisions.

The current team of Wikipedia programmers is a volunteer group (although a couple of them were recently hired by the Wikimedia Foundation so they could live a little more comfortably) working much like a standard free software community, discussing things on mailing lists and IRC channels. They got together in person in the days before Wikimania to discuss some of the current hot topics in the software.

One presentation was by a usability expert who told us about a study done on how hard people found it to add a photo to a Wikipedia page. The discussion after the presentation turned into a debate over whether Wikipedia should be easy to to use. Some suggested that confused users should just add their contributions in the wrong way and a more experienced users would come along to clean their contributions up. Others questioned whether confused users should be allowed to edit the site at all -- were their contributions even valuable?

As a programmer, I have a great deal of respect for the members of my trade. But with all due respect, are these really decisions that the programmers should be making?

Meanwhile, Jimbo Wales also has a for-profit company, Wikia, which recently received $4 million in venture capital funding. Wales has said, including in his keynote speech at Wikimania, that one of the things he hopes to spend it on is hiring programmers to improve the Wikipedia software.

This is the kind of thing that seems like a thoughtful gesture if you think of the software as neutral -- after all, improvements are improvements -- but becomes rather more problematic if technical choices have political effects. Should executives and venture capitalists be calling the shots on some of these issues?

The Wikipedia community is enormously vibrant and I have no doubt that the site will manage to survive many software changes. But if we're concerned about more than mere survival, about how to make Wikipedia the best that it can be, we need to start thinking about software design as much as we think about the rest of our policy choices.


From Making more Wikipedias:

Wikipedia's real innovation was much more than simply starting a community to build an encyclopedia or using wiki software to do it. Wikipedia's real innovation was the idea of radical collaboration. Instead of having a small group of people work together, it invited the entire world to take part. Instead of assigning tasks, it let anyone work on whatever they wanted, whenever they felt like it. Instead of having someone be in charge, it let people sort things out for themselves. And yet it did all this towards creating a very specific product.

Even now, it's hard to think of anything else quite like it. Books have been co-authored, but usually only by two people. Large groups have written encyclopedias, but usually only by being assigned tasks. Software has been written by communities, but typically someone is in charge.

But if we take this definition, rather than wiki software, as the core of Wikipedia, then we see that other types of software are also forms of radical collaboration. Reddit, for example, is radical collaboration to build a news site: anyone can add or edit, nobody is in charge, and yet an interesting news site results. Freed from the notion that Wikipedia is simply about wiki software, one can even imagine new kinds of sites. What about a "debate wiki", where people argue about a question, but the outcome is a carefully-constructed discussion for others to read later, rather than a morass of bickering messages.

If we take radical collaboration as our core, then it becomes clear that extending Wikipedia's success doesn't simply mean installing more copies of wiki software for different tasks. It means figuring out the key principles that make radical collaboration work. What kinds of projects is it good for? How do you get them started? How do you keep them growing? What rules do you put in place? What software do you use?

These questions can't be answered from the armchair, of course. They require experimentation and study. And that, in turn, requires building a community around strong collaboration itself. It doesn't help us much if each person goes off and tries to start a wiki on their own. To learn what works and what doesn't, we need to share our experiences and be willing to test new things -- new goals, new social structures, new software.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (See also)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Omnipelagos is like 6 degrees of wikipedia but much better. (You can actaully play 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon with it.)

Sanger Spearheads Wikipedia Fork

How's that for a headline? (Larry Sanger co-founded wikipedia then left it, disatisfied with its direction. It's good to see him working on something other than the silly Digital Universe project.)

Basically, the Citizendium looks really exciting -- a mirror-world wikipedia, run from the bottom up by regular people but guided by experts who are given authority over articles in their field (and who'll have to give their real name and CV).

Forks have been tried before, of course (Wikiinfo comes to mind (and that hilarious neo-nazi attempt)). But Sanger has plenty of ideas for attracting academics who aren't inclined to march through wikipedia clearing brush:

This will be "expertpedia," won't it? Experts only, right?

Not at all! As with Wikipedia, ordinary people will form the backbone of the Citizendium.

But experts will be involved and made into editors. Aren't you trying to turn the successful "bazaar"-style Wikipedia model into a failed "cathedral" style of project?

Again, no. Experts will be expected to work shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary people in this project in more or less the same bottom-up fashion that Wikipedia uses. The difference is that, when content disputes arise, whatever editors are paying attention to the article will be empowered to articulate a resolution--if the article falls in their area of specialization. Furthermore, their decisions will be enforceable.

And the forking process looks well-thought-out:
A "progressive fork" works like this: we will begin with all of Wikipedia's articles, so that the Citizendium will begin as, simply, a mirror of Wikipedia. Then people start making changes to articles in the Citizendium. On a very regular basis, we will refresh our copies of Wikipedia articles. If an entry in the Citizendium has never changed since being copied from Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia version has, then we upload the most recent Wikipedia article. But if the Citizendium has changed an article, then it is not refreshed. Tools will no doubt be written that will allow users to compare the differences between the Wikipedia article and the Citizendium article side-by-side. In addition, of course, people will be able to start brand new articles on topics Wikipedia has not yet covered.

Don't get me wrong: it probably won't work. But if you look at the Citizendium as part of a series of wikipedia-style projects, it's promising -- it's the first one built on a real understanding of what makes wikipedia tick.
A slashdotter:
Citizendium's design does seem to address what I consider the main problems with Wikipedia: disorganized, low-quality edits by well-intentioned people. The design of Wikipedia basically wastes huge amounts of time. Most articles gradually rise to a certain level of quality, and then the pioneers lose interest in the topic because there's not much left to be done. After that, the article gradually decays in quality. You'll get hundreds of edits on an article, but the diff between the beginning and the ending version can be zero. The current system basically requires serious editors to have huge watch-lists, and check them vigilantly to keep entropy from having its way. That's no fun, and it's the reason why, after several years of heavy participation, I gave up on WP.

I'll be happy if the Citizendium's just big enough to incubate new wiki models, find new social dynamics that work, serve as a kick in the pants for Wikipedia. Sanger seems to have a keen sense of how the website interface modulates the social interaction (WP, on the other hand, hasn't even fixed the location of its "Edit This Section" links). There are tremendous design challenges here, but maybe he's equal to them.


Digg!

"...if you want to have authority on the Web, you have to show up on the Web. And those who ought to enjoy more authority than Wikipedia aren’t. Let me make the point by example

...

Cast your eyes back across those web addresses. What are your chances of guessing them? Of remembering them? Of writing them down accurately? If you bookmark them, how confident are you that they’ll be there after the next site re-org?

So if the public-sector community decided to standardize their URIs, or adopt a principle that every front page should have a FAQ link, or make some sort of concerted intelligent attempt to show up on the Web, they might grab some authority back. But they’re not. And I don’t see any signs of interest.

So Wikipedia is going to win. Do you see any other plausible outcome?"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wikipedia is Written by the Public has a correllary: Process is Dangerous.

In physics, Planck units are physical units of measurement defined exclusively in terms of five universal physical constants, in such a manner that all of these physical constants take on the numerical value of one when expressed in terms of these units. Planck units elegantly simplify particular algebraic expressions appearing in physical law.

Jimmy: 'One of the points that I'm trying to push is that if there's a small town in China that has a wonderful local tradition, that won't make its way into Wikipedia because the people of China are not allowed to share their knowledge with the world. I think that's an ironic side-effect and something the people in the censorship department need to have a much bigger awareness of: you're not just preventing information about Falun Gong or whatever you're upset about getting into China, you're preventing the Chinese people speaking to the world.'

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Interesting blog post.

Then there's a distinct second group of people who argue fiercely against what they perceive as 'mob rule'; people who can't fathom the thought of open, participatory systems that actually work. Typically these are people from Academia or political institutions, both of which are groups that are deeply characterized by their thresholds of entry. (I'm not joking here. That's anecdotal evidence, true, but happened too often to be a coincidence.)

And these are the people we need to have discussions with. Because they're the gateways to making changes on a large scale, to changing the system from within. If we can't persuade them we at least must [reduce] their fear of these systems. We must demonstrate that what we're proposing is not Anarchy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Developing Wikipedia literacy.

Awhile back I buried some how-to-read-wikipedia advice in this post:

Wikipedia articles provide an abundance of informal cues that other media lack, cues that can seem unprofessional on first glance. For example, the USA Today article's main image shows (without adjacent comment) the paper's "Miners Survive!" headline gaffe. Since the pupose of the picture is to illustrate the paper, platonically, wouldn't a more neutral photo be better? Yes, but I'm not about to shoot one -- which is precisely the point: nobody cares much about USA Today; it doesn't have any advocates."

USA Today doesn't have any serious detractors, either, so the pic will probably change within a year. (If it was at the center of a controversy it wouldn't have lasted a day.) This type of informal information bubbles up all over. Warren and Livonia are both suburbs of Detroit, but Livonians don't think of themselves that way.

(Sure enough, the USA today pic has changed.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That Wikipedia's written by the public thing got picked up on slashdot, where it birthed a few fresh ideas:

Personally, I think this policy of focusing on total edits for Wikiality is brilliant: it keeps the generalists/prestige mongers focusing on copy editing -- where they can help -- and away from content creation -- where they usually can't. Wikipedia is largely the creation of a bunch of specialist nuts. The "Wiki-Elite" are the nuts whose speciality is Wikipedia. Better to keep them away from the content; otherwise, it's akin to having someone with a degree in journalism reporting on a technical issue.

- DingerX

I think the problem is arising because of lack of distinction between two different types of "editors." There are people who edit the content of an article (content editors), and there are people who edit the copy (copyeditors). One is concerned with altering the actual material that is being presented to present a different subset of information. The other is concerned with making edits for grammatical consistency, readability, and style.

- gEvil

Wikipedia could help crack this whole logjam with some simple user interface improvements. Each titled section should have a "trackback" link for linking to it in another page (eg. if I linked/quoted it in this post). They've already got the "id" HTML tag. In fact, each paragraph should have a "link/quote me" link, maybe even a link that adds an ID to a sentence, phrase or paragraph fragment upon linking to it.

Wikipedia is an "open reference" site. It should include much more support for embedding its content into other content. Each entry could have stats of who links/quotes to it. And an interface with a customizable formula with user-specified weighting to factors like linking/quoting, editing, initiating, commenting. Then we could all easily use the Wikipedia at a meaningful level of granularity, encouraging much more quoting (which encourages more chance of editing by a wider audience), and backfeeding more data about how Wikipedia is created and used.

- Doc Ruby

With all that history data available, why doesn't wikipedia have a "blame annotation" mode so I can see who last touched a given line of an article, and when?

- arodland

Wikipedia really is written by the public -- if this tremendously important bit of research is independently confirmed, it upsets conventional thinking.

Wales seems to think that the vast majority of users are just doing the first two (vandalizing or contributing small fixes) while the core group of Wikipedians writes the actual bulk of the article. But that's not at all what I found. Almost every time I saw a substantive edit, I found the user who had contributed it was not an active user of the site. They generally had made less than 50 edits (typically around 10), usually on related pages. Most never even bothered to create an account.

To investigate more formally, I purchased some time on a computer cluster and downloaded a copy of the Wikipedia archives. I wrote a little program to go through each edit and count how much of it remained in the latest version. Instead of counting edits, as Wales did, I counted the number of letters a user actually contributed to the present article.

If you just count edits, it appears the biggest contributors to the Alan Alda article (7 of the top 10) are registered users who (all but 2) have made thousands of edits to the site. Indeed, #4 has made over 7,000 edits while #7 has over 25,000. In other words, if you use Wales's methods, you get Wales's results: most of the content seems to be written by heavy editors.

But when you count letters, the picture dramatically changes: few of the contributors (2 out of the top 10) are even registered and most (6 out of the top 10) have made less than 25 edits to the entire site. In fact, #9 has made exactly one edit -- this one! With the more reasonable metric -- indeed, the one Wales himself said he planned to use in the next revision of his study -- the result completely reverses.

I don't have the resources to run this calculation across all of Wikipedia (there are over 60 billion edits!), but I ran it on several more randomly-selected articles and the results were much the same. For example, the largest portion of the Anaconda article was written by a user who only made 2 edits to it (and only 100 on the entire site). By contrast, the largest number of edits were made by a user who appears to have contributed no text to the final article (the edits were all deleting things and moving things around).

When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.

And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Writing an encyclopedia is hard. To do anywhere near a decent job, you have to know a great deal of information about an incredibly wide variety of subjects. Writing so much text is difficult, but doing all the background research seems impossible.

On the other hand, everyone has a bunch of obscure things that, for one reason or another, they've come to know well. So they share them, clicking the edit link and adding a paragraph or two to Wikipedia. At the same time, a small number of people have become particularly involved in Wikipedia itself, learning its policies and special syntax, and spending their time tweaking the contributions of everybody else.

Other encyclopedias work similarly, just on a much smaller scale: a large group of people write articles on topics they know well, while a small staff formats them into a single work. This second group is clearly very important -- it's thanks to them encyclopedias have a consistent look and tone -- but it's a severe exaggeration to say that they wrote the encyclopedia. One imagines the people running Britannica worry more about their contributors than their formatters.

And Wikipedia should too. Even if all the formatters quit the project tomorrow, Wikipedia would still be immensely valuable. For the most part, people read Wikipedia because it has the information they need, not because it has a consistent look. It certainly wouldn't be as nice without one, but the people who (like me) care about such things would probably step up to take the place of those who had left. The formatters aid the contributors, not the other way around.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Flickr's added geotagging and there are already millions of photos on the map. 2 thoughts spring immediately to mind:

1. Someone needs to mash this up with Wikimapia. (It can be done; there's an API.)

2. The hill ahead of Digital Universe keeps getting steeper.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

African Languages Grow as a Wikipedia Presence -- article by Noam Cohen, the NYTimes reporter I ran into at Wikimania. It's good. (Sidenote: apparently, the Tanzanian guy at the languages session was not only the only african to attend the conference but the only african-american. Depressing.)

There's an interesting followup on the mailing list:

The questions that the people working on African language Wikipedias (who have a new discussion list, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/afrophonewikis ) are asking are more like these:

* Can some of Africa's entrenched economic difficulties relate to the fact that many of her people do not have access to literacy in the languages they speak and use on a daily basis?
* How much of the lack of literacy in many languages is related to the lack of a systematic effort to produce written materials in those languages?
* If a critical mass of written materials were produced for a given language, would it create the necessary foundation for widespread literacy in that language among speakers of that language?
* If speakers of a given language were to develop literacy in that language, rather than having to learn an entirely different language (such as English or Arabic) in order to engage in written communications (send emails, write blogs, read newspapers, get commodity market and weather reports relevant to the crops they grow, apply for jobs, evaluate the truth claims of politicians, etc), might that literacy be a key to overcoming the continent's persistent economic difficulties?
* Given the certified failure of print publishers and government agencies (colonial and post-colonial) to produce literacy materials in most African languages during the past 150 years, and the rapid success of the Wikipedia model in producing vast amounts of knowledge material quickly, might the resources of the Wikipedia world be a way to address the issues of creating literacy materials for those languages?
* If One Laptop Per Child is indeed a foreseeable reality, and if Wikipedia is going to come prebundled, and if having literacy materials in the language a child speaks is a key to the ultimate success and usefulness of OLPC, isn't creating a good Wikipedia in that child's language an issue of somewhat immediate concern?
* If any or all of the above, but also given the slow pace of African language Wikipedias to date, what have the barriers been thus far, and how can those barriers be overcome in a timely and systematic way?

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the movie Distant Drums. It has been featured in dozens of movies since.

Monday, August 28, 2006

WikiCharts tracks the most popular wikipedia articles. As usual, people are interested in sex and space travel. (The tool counts pageviews, not searches from the wikipedia mainpage, so google's probably playing a big role. And it's only 2 days running, so expect big fluctuations.)

Site news: Categories! Down the left column.

I'll sort the posts bit by bit when I have time (around half are labeled now). This means you business types can browse here, wiki culture junkies can go here, etc. (It's still a little buggy; nothing too bad.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A head transplant is a hypothetical surgical operation involving the replacement of an organism's head with a replacement head. It should not be confused with another hypothetical surgical operation, the brain transplant.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006

List of computer and video games considered the worst ever.

(For example, Big Rigs -- "It is even possible, after several minutes of acceleration in this manner, for the speedometer to reach many thousands of times the speed of light. However, as soon as the reverse key is released, no matter what speed the truck is travelling at, it will halt instantly." And E.T. -- "Hundreds of thousands of excess cartridges were dumped in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico.")

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New planets! (Update: nevermind.)

The Neutrality of this Article is Disputed: Inside Wikimania 2006

From Reason magazine. It's pretty good.

The Silver Arrow is a ghost train that (according to an urban legend) haunts the Stockholm Metro.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Ryugyong is a towering, empty concrete shell that was once intended for use as a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Frank Chu (March 24, 1960 — ) is one of San Francisco's best-known eccentrics.

See also: The Emperor of the United States and, less interstingly, Daniel Pratt (eccentric)

People in this category are either current or past buskers.

Here are some buskers in Tokyo.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Whoa: Apple's going to put out a wiki engine. (If I was writing wikiwyg fanfiction, this is what it would be about.) Luckily for wikia, socialtext, and pretty much everybody else, it looks like it'll only run on apple servers, and who the hell has an apple server?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

NYTimes article on Wikimania, though not by the reporter I ran into.

In other news: A chinese wikipedia-style site was forced to shut down. (Sidenote: the chinese wikipedians I encountered at Wikimania were endearingly thrilled to be there. There has to be a way for an uncensored wikipedia to coexist with the PRC governmnet.)

I'm posting from Bedford-Stuyvesant (which I only recently learned how to pronounce.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Wikimania archives are mostly complete by now -- audio and video from the sessions.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What's Happening to Knowledge? was great, but I walked in the the middle so I won't summarize.

I'm at Can Visualization help?, probably the session I was looking forward to the most. It's headed by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, who've done some brilliant and badly needed work on Wikipedia visualizations, and Ben Shneiderman, expert in the field.

Fernanda Viégas: Live demo of history flow! Revert wars look like zigzags.

There's a new version that lets you zoom. And they're going to make it possible to use history flow with new wikipedia data (which hasn't been possible for awhile).

Martin Wattenberg: How can you get a picture of what a wikipedian works on? His visualization looks at all the edits of a particular user. These are beautiful snapshots of personalities, a little like poking through someone's bedroom. (For that reason, there are questions about whether tools like these should be released publicly. I hope they are, because they're utterly awesome.)

Ben Shneiderman's talk is about the field of visualization in general (and is targetted at businesspeople who aren't as computer-savvy as this audience -- one gets the feeling it's a presentation he's given before). Anticlimatic after Viégas and Wattenberg. But his intro is good: Using vision to think. "Visual bandwidth is enormous: Once you train your eye and your mind you begin to see it there quite naturally."

Viegas, relatedly: "People felt like they actually got it after they saw these visualizations. People who had never looked at wikipedia before could pick up on those patterns as well...From experience, the impact of showing this to people is just amazing."

The state of the Wikimedia Union

I'm at the Foundation Board panel. Big auditorium, sea of laptops (mine among them).

Summary

For creating content, Wikimedia has a decentralized model -- but maybe Wikimedia should be governed under a centralzied model (or maybe not -- the board should decide).

Wikipedia is blocked in China. Jimmy's going to the Chinese wikimedia conference to meet people and try to start solving things.

Jimmy: Choose your board members wisely! Although they won't get involved in community issues, they're responsible for the organization's strategic and legal future. They make the trains run on time.

Wikipedia in africa:
Jimmy: In the old days, the fundraising was about a desperate need to buy more servers so the site wouldn't break. But our fundraising has gotten more successful. What can we do to fulfil our organizational mission of providing knowledge to everyone in the world? We need to move conservatively, talk to people on the ground there, find out what they need and how we can help.

Questioner: Are we going to pay board members? For example, the next world social forum; it costs money to travel this much, give up this much of your time.)

Angela (who is (somewhat infamously) quitting the board): the foundation's decision-making process has become flawed. We now vote on a wiki instead of having discussions.

(Combination of direct quote and paraphrase from another board member.) "The world looks to this organization as a flagbearer of this century. This kind of thing has never been done before."

Wales: The conflict between accuracy and openness is an illusion. For example, stable versions will almost eliminate semiprotection. The details of finding the best path will be left up to the individual communities. Some things do make sense globally; those practices will spread, but it's not the board's duty to micromanage.

Wales: NPOV is potentially flexible: it is a term of art that is endowed with meaning by the community.

Questioner: Money is the most powerful force in the world. Will social sharing ever become more powerful than money? Board: No, people are the most powerful force.

Financial situation is good. For the first time, over the past six months, we've gotten steady donations every day. We have a buffer now. Wikimania will spend the money, at first, on additional hardware. The public is using our service; for every person in this auditorium, there are thousands of other interested people around the world.

In the future, there will be more donations from foundations and corporations, so we might get away from the pass-the-hat model. We'd always been just barely be able to keep up with traffic -- but now we can ask, what could we do if we had more money?

"I think what disturbs me is that it is reasonable to believe that in about five to ten years, I’ll be in the “new inside”. As I’m walking around at wikimania, I’m seeing new power structures form, and if one is not careful, new power structures develop the pathologies of the old power structures."

Part of twofish's opinionated and insightful coverage.

NPR interview with Lih about Wikimania.

Recordings of sessions. (Boingboing summarizes Jimmy's plenary. In the outside world: Cogent summary of the Colbert thing.)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Too tired to go to the Web 1.0 party (and it was at MIT, too. hmph.). I will say this about Cambridge: good street musicians during the day, terrible ones at night. It seems like a city that loves and understands acoustic folk, but is interested in other styles mostly as academic curiosities. (Or maybe I'm being an asshole for judging a city on the kids trying to make an easy saturday buck. I remember russian clubbers in detroit for whom anything with a melody, or chords, or filters, or slower than 160 bpm, is crap.)

(Dr. Thompsen's Wikimania 2006 Journal. Detailed.)

Preemptive critique of the times story: it's possible that one angle that might pop up is "wikipedia takes a relative approach to truth: wikiality: truth is whatever the mob says."

But NPOV and concensus (and a hands-off approach toward differing cultural norms) are not academic philosophies of knowledge, they're practical approaches to the process of collaborative writing, imperfect but workable solutions that allow wikipedia to (dare I say) thrive.

Wikimania feature in tomorrow's NYTimes week in review the NYTimes at some point

(Update: Here it is.)

I'm at Language and cultural barriers and challenges to Wikipedia. Upstairs, small room. All the cool foreign kids.
There's a New York Times reporter here who says he's writing about us for Week in Review. (I got out of there fast after he unmasked himself (well, and after the session ended). I'm waaay too sleep-deprived to be anywhere near a times reporter.)

Update: I misread that exchange -- the reporter was saying he had an article not about Wikimania, but about language. The wikimania article is yet to be written.

The session

Should we aim for an ur-wikipedia that every language version feeds into, with every perspective? (Well, no.) How independent should each language version be? (The question becomes more complex when you look at areas in which multilinguism is common -- see africa segment below.) ("If you attempt to combine languages, some of the knowledge actually disappears." But there's not necessarily a conflict here: multimodal translation directions, etc.)

(In other news, I think I said "dutch" when I meant to say "danish". I blame the public schools.)

The Swahili wikipedia is exapanding: >1000 articles. The guy next to me, from Tanzania, is talking about using social networks and students to help it grow.* "If you want to convince people in the developing world to do something like this, that's new, you have to be very persistent. Extremely persistent." (Swahili is not an african lingua franca, contrary to stereotype. However, it doesn't belong to any particular ethnic group, so it carries less baggage. There is tension because ethnic languages are being lost as Swahili becomes more common.)

How big is the overlap between wikipedias? How many polish-language articles don't exist in the english version?

What about nations in which the cultural makeup of the bilingual crowd is different from that of those who only speak the native language. What about bilingual people who choose to write in english because they can reach a wider audience? See also.

*He's also working on a project to rewrite Tanzania's constitution using wikis.

I almost forgot:

The group is forming a new mailing list to continue the discussion and make recommendations to the board.

...and we're back. I'm at What can wikipedia learn from open source software projects? (A subject I've talked about before.)

A summary of the discussion:

Open source software has a large commercial ecosystem that interacts with and helps drive project development. But commercial interests can harm projects. Wikipedia should seek nonthreatening complementary product services!

Wikipedia has obvious advantages (more people can write english than can code C). But it also has disadvantages:

1. Monoculture means slower evolution (less mutation, because fewer projects). Open source projects borrow successful processes/institutions/best practices from each other. (But human-lanugage-based open source is young yet. It's also worth mentioning that different language versions of wikipedia have different policies. But diffusion of successful policies is hindered by ... er ... a language barrier. Personally, I think a lot of these variations rest in underlying cultural differences, and so may not be completely "portable". But they're worth examining.)

2. Software production (and industrial production, for that matter) uses automation: write once, use all over. But natural language production doesn't have economies of scale.

3. Software producers sometimes "eat their own dogfood" (use their own software). If something goes wrong, there's a high priority of fixing it.

O'Mahony seems to disagree with Lessig: open source is usually not a hacker adhocracy. Although open source coding procedures have remained similar, their framework has changed: now 2/3 of "volunteers" are actually sponsored by vendors. Corporate in-kind donations support the projects' production. (I'd argue that a broad definition of adhocracy encompasses the current situation.)

And finally a concrete example wikipedia can learn from: When projects delegate governance to a foundation, there's often a power struggle. (Luckily, the foundation hasn't gotten involved in micromanagement.)

(Sidenote: Wikipedia is less transparent than most open source projects -- that is, it's harder to follow as a whole. (Better visualizations would help there, I think. And there do exist general overview services like the Signpost.))

Friday, August 04, 2006

Man, I was tired (up all night 'till the late afternoon). Archived media -- though the videos aren't up yet.

Jimbo: Wikiwyg yet to come.

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence Lessig gives a fucking great presentation. video feed

We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code. --Clark

Update: Clicknoise has some interesting commentary.

I'm at Identity, Anonymity and the Wiki. (Video feed (rm))

Update: Great question about articles for deletion, and ensuring consistency: should there be case studies, like in law? Would people refer to the 2006 GNAA precident for reference? Could these be automatically generated, as in google news? (It seems like that last would be difficult.)

As I type this, I'm in Cambridge, listening to Jimmy Wales talk about talking to Jimmy Carter. (here's a live video feed

Thursday, August 03, 2006

There's a generalized Wikimania blog (not by me).

I'm one of the judges for the Wikimania awards -- I'm judging on-wiki, though, so you can follow along as I pick through cool photos.

Update: CNet's picted it up.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Wikimania Hacking Days - Day 1
Originally uploaded by fuzheado.
David Weinberger (the guy behind Small Pieces Loosely Joined) blogs about about how nervous he is about his Wikimania keynote.

In other news, there are -- At This Very Moment -- people doing what I presume are brilliant, consequential things at Hacking Days (and I'd be there if I was more geeky -- I'm at about the trough of the asymptotic geekiness distribution curve, just far enough up to realize how stupid I am compared to the real geeks).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This New Yorker article nails Wikipedia's appeal.

Apparently, no traditional encyclopedia has ever suspected that someone might wonder about Sudoku or about Prostitution in China. Or, for that matter, about Capgras delusion (the unnerving sensation that an impostor is sitting in for a close relative), the Boston molasses disaster, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, Bill Gates’s house, the forty-five-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War, or Islam in Iceland. Wikipedia includes fine entries on Kafka and the War of the Spanish Succession, and also a complete guide to the ships of the U.S. Navy, a definition of Philadelphia cheesesteak, a masterly page on Scrabble, a list of historical cats (celebrity cats, a cat millionaire, the first feline to circumnavigate Australia), a survey of invented expletives in fiction (“bippie,” “cakesniffer,” “furgle”), instructions for curing hiccups, and an article that describes, with schematic diagrams, how to build a stove from a discarded soda can.

That's the bloggiest part, but it's a great article all around:
Wattenberg and Viégas, of I.B.M., note that the vast majority of Wikipedia edits consist of deletions and additions rather than of attempts to reorder paragraphs or to shape an entry as a whole, and they believe that Wikipedia's twenty-five-line editing window deserves some of the blame. It is difficult to craft an article in its entirety when reading it piecemeal, and, given Wikipedians’ obsession with racking up edits, simple fixes often take priority over more complex edits. Wattenberg and Viégas have also identified a “first-mover advantage”: the initial contributor to an article often sets the tone, and that person is rarely a Macaulay or a Johnson. The over-all effect is jittery, the textual equivalent of a film shot with a handheld camera.

What can be said for an encyclopedia that is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes illiterate? When I showed the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam his entry, he was surprised to find it as good as the one in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He was flabbergasted when he learned how Wikipedia worked. "Obviously, this was the work of experts," he said. In the nineteen-sixties, William F. Buckley, Jr., said that he would sooner “live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” On Wikipedia, he might finally have his wish. How was his page? Essentially on target, he said. All the same, Buckley added, he would prefer that those anonymous two thousand souls govern, and leave the encyclopedia writing to the experts.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who is responsible for this?

Why have I never seen Larry Sanger's blog before?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Chicken sexing is the method of distinguishing the sex of chicken hatchlings, usually by a trained person called a chicken sexer.

It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa by simply walking out the door with it hidden under his coat.

The theft was master-minded by a con-man who had commissioned a French art forger to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. Because he didn't need the original for his con, he never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. After having kept the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient and was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pediapress sells print-on-demand compendiums of wikipedia articles. Hopefully it's the first in a minor ecosystem of companies repurposing wikimedia content: that's what the GFD Licence specifically allows.

But wait! The name Wikimedia isn't free; it's trademarked. And the names of the subprojects, too (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, etc.). But repurposed copies have to use that name to show where the content's from. And how's Wikimedia going to prevent scam artists from using its name (for example) to sell articles peppered with implanted ads for real estate?

The GFDL and trademark law collided to produce this byzantine debate on the mailing list.

In semi-related news, the Library of Congress and Wikipedia might share content.

A paternoster is a doorless elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers who are agile enough can step on or off at any floor they like.

THE LONGEST ESCELATOR IN THE WORLD

(addendum: Hong Kong Island is dominated by steep, hilly terrain, which makes it the home of some rather unusual methods of transport up and down the slopes.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

The thagomizer is the arrangement of four to ten spikes on the tail of particular dinosaurs, like the famous Stegosaurus, in the clade Stegosauria. (See also: Horrendous Space Kablooie.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The next version of Apple's word processor (iWork) is rumored to integrate with Wikipedia. It would be nice if it plopped wikipedia text into the document and encouraged people to use it (god, I wish people would unlearn the draconian copyright rules they're taught to refexively apply: you can use wikipedia text anywhere -- even tweak it for style and accuracy, and use it for profit -- as long as you say where it's from). But more likely it's just a search tool.

The Vermont Republic was a North American independent republic that lasted from 1777 to 1791

Monday, July 10, 2006

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Wiki

That WaPo story about the six minutes of inaccuracy in the Ken Lay article got picked up by slashdot.

There are plenty of insightful comments, but this one wins on brevity:

"You step into Wikipedia, you understand what's up.
You know it's not a peer-reviewed encyclopedia. It's a WIKIpedia.
You know anyone, including you, can edit it."

I doubt any of the hapless visitors who stumbled onto this revision during the few seconds it was on the page thought to themselves "The guilt of ruining so many lives finaly led him to his suicide. Wow, I didn't know that. Good thing I looked this up in wikipedia, or I might never have found out that bit of information." No, anyone could tell it was a throway piece of decidedly non-neutral writing that could be safely doubted, treated with the same level of authority as if it had been yelled from the next cubicle. (More on gleaning information from the writing style of wikipedia entries)

The puzzle then becomes, "Why did the reuters story get such huge play? Why was it refactored everywhere?"

I think it's because whenever a journalist runs any sort of story on wikipedia, they're bound to get a few letters saying "Your article was terrible. But that's okay, because wikis and blogs are going to make journalists obsolete in a couple years!" This is a boundary dispute -- and, in the context of newsroom cutbacks and layoffs, one that strikes fear and pissed-off-ness into the hearts of journalists who can see one side of the coin (that Wikipedia is not a good replacement for a newspaper) but not the other (that almost nobody expects wikipedia to be a replacement).

Update: Here's a good deconstruction of the WaPo piece that I swear I didn't see before I wrote this. And here's an even better one via the Signpost

Yasunori Mitsuda (born January 21, 1972) is a Japanese composer and musician best known for his soundtracks for various video games.

Long interview about how wikipedia works. Some interesting stuff about differences between language versions.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Hollow Earth theory posits that the planet Earth has a hollow interior and probably a habitable inner surface.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Wikimedia WYSIWYG interface by August 4th? (Update: nope. But it's coming.)

Apparently, Wikia (Wales's wiki company) is throwing a lot of money at getting a WYSIWYG interface into mediawiki, and they want to unveil a demo at the beginning of August, at Wikimania.

The "sort of" is tacked on because (1) it's just a demo and (2) I'm taking Ender's word.

(Just FYI: I'll be at Wikimania, which will be awesome. I have enough frequent flier miles accumulated from bi-annual childhood trips to my grandparents' in Melbourne to land a free ticket to Boston. I'll be blogging. Also, I designed the Wikimania logo. If you like it, tell Wikimania to get around to putting it in the bloody corner.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Newspapers have been complaining about wikipedia's coverage of Ken Lay's death. Specifically, there was a period of 6 minutes (the time the story was breaking) during which the w'pedia entry's "cause of death" sentence transmogrified through various rumours into fact (including an incident of vandalism that lasted less than a minute).

So it was refreshing to see the readers of a Chicago Tribune blog rise up en mass and argue the blogger down.

(I used to have to do that kind of thing myself =P )

Followup: How I learned to stop worrying and love the wiki.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If it's a crime for a man to love his country then I'm guilty of that. And if it's a crime to steal a trillion dollars, well, then I'm guilty of that, too! (See also: Fake denominations of United States currency.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jimmy Wales's open letter to the political blogosphere. "I am launching today a new Wikia website aimed at being a central meeting ground for people on all sides of the political spectrum who think that it is time for politics to become more participatory, and more intelligent."

Amazing photo of MLK's march on washington.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Category Tree is a cool Thingy that lets you browse wikipedia categories hierarchically. For example: Military Conflicts (which contains Wars and Battles and Fictional WWI Characters, among other things), or Cheeses (which is a part of Dairy products which is a part of Foods which is a part of Food and drink which is a part of Personal life).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fallen Astronaut is an 8.5 cm aluminum sculpture of an astronaut in a spacesuit. It is the only piece of art on the Moon.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Tetris effect refers to the ability of any activity to which people devote sufficient time and attention to begin to dominate their thoughts, images, and dreams.

Dog monuments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wikimapia is getting really cool. (Google maps + wiki -- you draw a square around something and tag it with a paragraph of text.) Are you listening, Digital Universe?

Space burial is a burial procedure in which a small sample of the cremated ashes of the deceased in a lipstick-sized capsule are launched into space using a rocket.

A white elephant is a valuable possession whose upkeep is excessively expensive, and may be useless apart from its value to the gifter and giftee. List.

Musical comebacks gone awry

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The deadliest conflict since World War II

(Sidenote: I've made a grand total of $3 in the year I've had the google ads up (that's roughly $0.0002 per visitor), so I think I'll take them down. I was going to leave them until I had, at least symbolically, enough to replace the pack of cigs I smoked writing the Wikipedia/Linux article, but I should really quit.)

Text Mode demos are real-time calculated computer animations which make use of the native text graphic mode(s) common on the IBM PC. (See Demoscene)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

List of youth subcultures

Well. I respect historians more now. One of the them wrote a great article -- the first I've read that's almost uniformly ... right. It gives insight on the usual topics, and manages to ferret out the really important issues, like wikipedia's impact on the 3rd world. (And it succeeds in being porn for wikipedia culture junkies.)

Your freedom both to rewrite Wikipedia entries and to manipulate them for other purposes is thus arguably more profound than your ability to read them “for free.” It is why free-software advocates say that to understand the concept of free software, you should think of “free speech” more than “free beer.”

...

Why are so many of our scholarly journals locked away behind subscription gates? What about American National Biography Online—written by professional historians, sponsored by our scholarly societies, and supported by millions of dollars in foundation and government grants? Why is it available only to libraries that often pay thousands of dollars per year rather than to everyone on the Web as Wikipedia is? Shouldn’t professional historians join in the massive democratization of access to knowledge reflected by Wikipedia and the Web in general? American National Biography Online may be a significantly better historical resource than Wikipedia, but its impact is much smaller because it is available to so few people.

The limited audience for subscription-based historical resources such as American National Biography Online becomes an even larger issue when we move outside the borders of the United States and especially into poorer parts of the world, where such subscription fees pose major problems even for libraries. Moreover, in some of those places, where censorship of textbooks and other historical resources is common, the fact that Wikipedia’s freedom means both “free beer” and “free speech” has profound implications because it allows the circulation of alternative historical voices and narratives.

It also further confirms the gist of that infamous Nature editorial...
I judged 25 Wikipedia biographies against comparable entries in Encarta, Microsoft’s well-regarded online encyclopedia (one of the few commercial encyclopedias that survive from a once-crowded marketplace), and in American National Biography Online, a high-quality specialized reference work published by Oxford University Press for the American Council of Learned Societies, written largely by professional historians, and supported by major grants. The comparison is unfair—both publications have had multimillion-dollar budgets—but it is still illuminating, and it sheds some favorable light on Wikipedia.

...and the purpose of this blog:
One noticeable difference [between Wikipedia and standard historical writing] is the affection for surprising, amusing, or curious details—something that Wikipedia shares with other forms of popular historical writing such as articles in American Heritage magazine. Consider some details that Wikipedians include in their Lincoln biography that do not make their way into McPherson’s profile: Lincoln’s sharing a birthday with Charles Darwin; his nicknames (the Rail Splitter is mentioned twice); his edict making Thanksgiving a national holiday; and the end of his bloodline with the death of Robert Beckwith in 1985. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia devotes five times as much space to Lincoln’s assassination as the longer American National Biography Online profile does. The same predilection for colorful details marks other portraits. We learn from the Harding biography that the socialist Norman Thomas was a paper boy for the Marion Daily Star (which Harding owned), that Harding reached the sublime degree as a Master Mason, and that Al Jolson and Mary Pickford came to Marion, Ohio, during the 1920 campaign for photo ops. It devotes two paragraphs to speculation about whether Harding had “Negro blood” and five paragraphs to his extramarital affairs. Meanwhile, key topics—domestic and foreign policies, the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act of 1921, immigration restriction, and naval treaties—are ignored or hurried over. We similarly learn that Woodrow Wilson belonged to Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and wrote his initials on the underside of a table in the Johns Hopkins University history department, but not about his law practice or his intellectual development at Princeton University.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Type I - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet.

1. Yet another reference to Wikipedia that calls it simply "Wiki". This is why Wetpaint didn't put the word 'Wiki' in their name: the battle for wikipedia != wiki is probably lost.

2. And yet another blogger (Fred Wilson, who coined the term "red hat wikipedia" 6 months ago) is nonplussed: "If I am not notable enough for inclusion in Wikipedia, so be it. But I do think that the one Fred Wilson they include is hardly notable, particularly when compared to the artist, the chessmaster, the rockband, and me (probably in that order)."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lukasz (a Seattle-ite) sent me an interesting email about why he's starting his own wiki about hiking trails (Hikipedia) -- and why he spent late nights rolling his own wiki software, using Python/Zope: Hikipedia has all sorts of metadata (stuff that only applies to hiking, like the length of the hiking season at a particular trail, or the ranger station address) built right into the editing interface.

I'm reminded of Clay Shirky's old point: making something completely generalized can be limiting. (But the difference between wikis and other web apps (discussion forums, say) is that all users of a wiki share the same collective space, and content in that space endures; it never gets pushed off the page simply for being old. So having a large userbase can enrich the collective space -- all of it. Trade-offs.)

A sixth sense (and a 7th).

Jimbo sums up the NYTimes thing.

(o_O)

New York Times Revises its Ill-Concieved Headline

The Times has issued a correction and changed the headline from "Growing Wikipedia Revises Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy" to "Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy".

(Looking at it in a different light, I think the original headline was a misguided play on the fact that wikipedia itself is constantly being revised.)

--Previously: One, Two, three--

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Techcrunch article: Wetpaint just launched (so that's why I hadn't heard of it). It's a wiki host and wiki framework rolled into one.

The interface battle is on: check out the awesome functionality on this history page -- each edit is programmatically summarized, for example ("4 words added, 2 words deleted"). (I'm jealous. Someone make me an OS X wikipedia client.)

Wetpaint is going to be pretty big. Bigger than Wikia, I think.

It's hard to overstate the importance of usability testing, which Wetpaint has obviously been through and wikipedia/mediawiki obviously hasn't. Not that the Wetpaint interface is ideal -- it's apparent the let's-maximize-revenue folks won out over the let's-make-the-perfect-zen-website folks -- but Wetpaint gets an important part right: in one fell swoop, thanks to ajax-powered editing, the mechancs of the site are manifest in its appearence: This Page Is Put Together By A Bunch Of People Like You. And a bunch of smaller confusions are nipped in the bud (users are called writers, not editors, for exmaple). (Meanwhile, I've watched web-designer friends click on the wrong edit-this-section link on wikipedia. A few developer-hours improving the link placement could save thousands of community-hours reverting edits by confused newbies.)

We geeks don't realize it, but wikis, unless specifically designed, are hard for most people (excluding teenagers, tech writers, etc.).

Sidenote: the story brought out a great comment -- on Digg, of all places -- analyzing why established wikis are less vulnerable:

I believe (and see it since I spend a lot of time on wikipedia for school) that most articles are "crystalized out" on wikipedia. I'm not saying wiki has stopped growing, but most pages on significant articles are finished, and remain untouched by ídiots [vandals] because there is no reason to edit it. You can expect that an article about Bush will be incorrectly edited a lot of course.

I think you can compare it to graffititags: people spray their logos only on walls, almost never on windows, doors, or higways. Why not? because they have a "usable" function.

That is why Wiki[pedia] works. it has its weaknesses, but it still is one of the strongest inventions on the web.

Wetpaint is a wiki hosting service that provides a dead-simple ajax-y WYSIWYG interface. (I wish wikipedia/mediawiki had something similar.) Sandbox.

The List of World's Largest Roadside Attractions needs more pictures.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Student, justify why you have come to class wearing pants of our most probable military opponent!" (here the teacher means jeans made in USA) The right answer, as mentioned sometimes, is: "Because they are a probable war trophy."

As the faulty New York Times article trickles into dozens of smaller outlets, a few news sources get it right.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The ripple effect from yesterday's incorrect and misleading New York Times headline is creating problems for at least a least one high-profile Wikipedian thousands of miles away:

--Previously: One, Two--

From the mailing list:

What is even more embarassing is that these stories spread all over the world. Journalists call locals (such as me) to say

"did you read the last NYT article ? Can you tell me more about the latest decisions ?"

Me : "there are no new decisions"

Journalist : "but it is written in the NYT !"

Me : "so what ?"

Journalist : "Ah...well... still, it is no longer open to everyone - I would like to explain to french readers that new articles can not be created by Anonymous any more"

Me : "well, I recommand you do not, because on the french speaking wikipedia, Anonymous can still create articles"

Journalist : "but Jimmy Wales said that..."

Me : "Okay. But things are not so simple. Maybe I could explain to you how decision making is done in the different language versions and maybe introduce you to our governance system. This is a fascinating topic you know ?"

Which reminds me... did we get press coverage for the hiring of the CEO ?

Aside from Wikipedia being open or not being open to editing, I think hiring a CEO should be food for thought and speculation from at least some of the magazines. Did any magazine question whether it would change the governance of the organisation ? Did anyone wonder if it would somehow impact the international dimension (such as would it impact latin america or india engagement ? would it impact the china block?). Could it change our relationship with service providers or potential partners ? Did someone wonder if that would change something in terms of staff ? What would be the related main benefits and threats ?

No ?


(The poster is a francophone; I've corrected some grammar.)

The more I think about it, the more I think this is what happened:

1. Someone at the Times saw Nick Carr's trolly "Wikipedia is Dead!" post about semiprotection, and the huge response it got, and thought "hey, time for an article about Wikipedia".

2. Someone else at the Times* volunteered to interview people and write a story.

3. The editors said, "Let's clarify this", and "Let's find the lead", several times, until what had been a complex issue was effectively reduced to "Wikipedia's no longer open becuase articles are protected". (You might even call the mistake ... an inherent flaw in collaborative content creation.)

And there was another big problem, which I didn't catch. The Times said:

It has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism.


This is true: admins do, technically, have the power to do all of these things. But they're not supposed to delete articles without community concensus -- it happens fairly often, but it shouldn't, and things might get tightened up over the next few months.

The problem with the article -- apart from the headline -- is that it elides out the difference between what the rules allow and what sometimes happens when admins bend those rules. It's as if it had said "The United States has a clear power structure that gives members of congress the authority to gerrymander their districts to preserve their power": technically true, but misleading because according to the rules, congress isn't really supposed to do that. Language like this might be acceptable in the humanities, but it's bad journalism. (On reflection, maybe I'm being charitable: I'm going to try to contact the Times and see if the reporter knew admins weren't supposed to delete articles on their own.)

* You might think the editors are the ones who propose stories and the reporters the ones who stomp out and cover them, but I'm pretty sure reporters and editors can both propose stories to go into the bin, and reporters are free to volenteer for the stories they want (within a newpaper subsection). (Not sure about this, though.)

Deleted Articles with Freaky Titles

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jimmy Wales: Today's NYTimes article "gets it exactly backwards".

I don't completely agree. The focus of the article was off -- protection and semiprotection are non-issues, and not particularly important policies -- see previous post -- but the main thrust, that the encyclopedia has a more established structure now, seems correct. It's just that that structure is still largely informal, even if it's effective. This angle was too complex to explain in a newspaper article, so they glossed over it.

(It's worth repeating that this structure is strongest in the most heavily trafficed areas of wikipedia and weaker in the more specialized areas (which, collectively, probably get 20 times the traffic of the popular areas because they cover so much more ground. I still agree with Wales's suggestion from a couple months ago that wikipedia's structure needs to be more local -- that administration should be divided into "regions" covering specific topics.)

Wikipedia gets 2 columns, above the fold, on the front page of today's New York Times.

The article itself is nuanced examination of how wikipedia works (with an alarmist headline) -- about semiprotection and other ways editorial control is emerging from the mist (the other ways dwarf semiprotection by orders of magnitude, but they're organic and harder to explain, so semiprotection gets the headline).

2 notes:

1. The media loves stories about how look at that ! wikipedia's not anarchy now! But it never was particularly anarchic -- the constraints of the medium (no physical contact, for example; and no permanent erasure) made it one of the few working examples of anarcho-syndicalism -- which is to say, it was never structureless; it always had the structure of social interaction. (Social scientists are going to be studying wikipedia's germination decades from now, trying to figure out what parallels they can draw with human society (and especially early human societies, before most of the political constructs we're familiar with existed).)

2. Articles like this are going to attract lots of new editors. But I'm a little worried those editors will come in with notions that WPedia's a churning sea of edit wars and agression -- all the Times articles that mention acrimony and link to high-profile pages like Christina Aguilera might have the effect of normalizing stuff like that. Wikipedia is mostly peaceful. This is all by way of saying: I hope the newb-welcoming efforts are attended to (they seem to be). They're the wiki equivalent of an education system.

Update: I read the article in print and got a completely different impression of it than I did reading it on a screen. Revised a little.